Can you make a competitive team with your pick of the remaining free agents?

I was flipping through the list of remaining free agents (as of 1/16/2012) and tried to field the best team possible with those players still available.  Here’s what you can do…

Catcher:

The best hitting catcher is probably Ramon Castro, who I see as a DH but can catch some.  You have a couple of receivers with good defensive skills but a limited offensive outlook (Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Varitek) and a couple of catchers who have recently been regulars (Chris Snyder, Ronny Paulino).  If you took Castro and Rodriguez, at least you’d have someone who could work with the pitchers and throw, and you’d have a decent enough backup who could help put a few runs on the board.

First Baseman:

With Prince Fielder still available, you have the centerpiece of an offense – but you still have some competent backups.  Casey Kotchman seems to have found his hitting stroke, and Carlos Pena could help in a platoon role (can’t hit lefties, though).  If you weren’t willing to pony up $20 million per year for Fielder, a platoon of Pena and Derrek Lee might give you depth and a solid platoon.

Second Baseman:

Not a lot to choose from here…  The best player is probably Carlos Guillen, but he’s only going to play 40 games (not to be mean here, but his injury history is becoming problematic).  That leaves you with someone who can, at best, not embarrass you with the glove – Jeff Keppinger, for example – and even play a couple of positions since you may need some flexibility.

Third Baseman:

If you thought the pickings were thin at second, it’s even thinner at third base now.  Casey Blake has had a couple of good years, and Wilson Betemit can swing the bat.  After that, it’s guys who used to be able to play some (Eric Chavez, Alex Cora, Omar Vizquel).

Shortstop:

Three guys who can’t really cover the position anymore – Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, and Miguel Tejada.  The best overall option is probably Cabrera – or letting him play second and moving Keppinger over to play short.

Outfielders:

There are still a few players here who could contribute, but most of these guys are past prime players and few have the wheels to cover center.  However, Johnny Damon could still play left, Cody Ross can play right or center (though he’s running out of years he’ll be able to cover center).  Kosuke Fukudome is a fantastic right fielder and can still bat leadoff.  Behind that you have a couple of guys who could be good fourth outfielders and pinch hitting types – Jonny Gomes, Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre.  If you needed a defensive guy, Joey Gathright is there.  And, if you want to take a real chance, you could go for Yoenis Cespedes.

A lineup as listed below would score some runs, and probably fight the defense to a draw.

Fukudome – RF
Damon – LF
Guillen – 2B
Fielder – 1B
Castro – C
Ross – CF
Blake – 3B
Keppinger – SS
(Pitcher – assuming a National League team)

Starting Pitchers:

A couple recent signings has killed off much of the top remaining pitchers, but you still have a few guys who can win games.  I see a rotation that includes the following as having some potential:

Roy Oswalt
Edwin Jackson
Jon Garland
Joe Saunders
Livan Hernandez

And I’d give a sixth spot to Rich Harden – pitch him until something breaks (which it will).  Or, you could take Harden’s stuff and make a closer out of him.  Your emergency arm might be Kevin Millwood – I just don’t know if he has one more year left.  I’d stash him in AAA until Rich Harden breaks down…  The staff is really missing an ace, but you have two guys who can win at the top and three guys who can give you 650 innings at the bottom, which helps the bullpen.

Relievers:

The signing of Ryan Madson takes away the best available closer, but you can do a bullpen by committee and hope someone takes charge.  I see the top six arms as follows:

Michael Gonzalez
Danys Baez
Francisco Cordero
Juan Cruz
Brad Lidge
Arthur Rhodes

Out of that list, you can give Lidge the last inning (if he’s healthy) and mix and match the rest to be reasonably effective.

I haven’t done the math on this, but a team with this roster could possibly make a run at 85 wins.

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2011 Season Forecast: Cleveland Indians

Last Five Years:

2010:  69 – 93  (Fourth in AL Central)
2009:  65 – 97
2008:  81 – 81
2007:  96 – 66
2006:  78 – 84

Remember 2007, anyone?  the Indians were a game away from getting to the World Series.

Runs Scored: 646 (12th in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 752 (12th in the AL)

With this combination of runs scored and allowed, the Indians would have been expected to win 69 games – which is what they did.

Season Recap:

Most experts had the Indians and Royals battling for the bottom of the AL Central, and the Indians did just that – edging the Royals by two games to claim fourth in the division.

The Indians got off to a moderately slow start, but fell way off the pace in May, going 9 – 18.  Other than that month and a rather poor August (10 – 18, but played better than that), the Indians roared down the stretch with a 15 – 12 September, catching the Royals to get out of the cellar.  Part of this was adding a few nuggets – like rookie catcher Carlos Santana and infielders Jason Donald and Jayson Nix – who were happy to get playing time and helped lead the charge.

Starters:

Fausto Carmona returned to form, tossing sinkers and sinking fastballs, and giving the Indians 210.1 innings of solid baseball.  Justin Masterson’s first season as a regular in the rotation wasn’t a complete loss.  Sure, he allowed a lot of runs, but he had decent strikeout numbers and hung in there for the whole year.  He needs to work on his control, but there’s something to build on here.  Mitch Talbot won 10 games, but I’m not sure how.  He doesn’t strike a lot of guys out and he tends to walk even more guys than Masterson.  Jake Westbrook returned to make 21 fair starts before being shipped off to St. Louis for the stretch run.  David Huff, Josh Tomlin, and Jeanmar Gomez served as fifth starters – only Huff looked way out of place and of the three, Tomlin looks to be ready to take a turn 30 times and be successful.

Looking forward, a rotation of Carmona, Masterson, Talbot, Tomlin, and another kid named Carlos Carrasco has some potential for growth.  I see Talbot falling off a little, but if Carmona can hold form, the other three guys could certainly shave 30 – 40 runs off the runs allowed side of the ledger.

Relievers:

Chris Perez did a great job as the closer and returns for another season.  Tony Sipp, Rafael Perez, Joe Smith, Jensen Lewis, and Frank Herrmann will tote some innings as well.  Justin Germano did an okay job last year and gets a non-roster invitation to training camp.  He has a shot at being the 11th man on the staff.  Of these, I am less inclined to believe that Perez and Smith will be as successful, so Lewis, Herrmann, and SOMEBODY will have to step up.  I think the bullpen may be off by 10 runs over the course of the season.

Catching:

Carlos Santana had a great first 40 games.  He’s a convert – came to the Dodgers in 2005 as a third baseman and played all over the infield and outfield – an Elmo Plaskett sort of career.  I 2007, he was switched to catcher and has shown himself to be a quick learner with a strong arm.  As a hitter, he has a .401 OBP in the minors with 25 homer potential.  His backup, Lou Marson, has solid defensive skills but struggled at the plate last year – even after being sent to AAA.  I don’t think this will happen again.

Infield:

Last year’s infield started out as Russell Branyan, Mark Grudzielanek or Luis Valbuena, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Jhonny Peralta.  By August, Grudzielanek was released and now is retired.  Branyan was returned to Seattle, and I have no reason why they would have done that – but what the hey.  Matt LaPorta came in to play first.  Jayson Nix outplayed Andy Marte to win the third base job, and Jason Donald earned a shot at second base.  Only Cabrera played most of the season – but even he, by the end of the season, was seeing less playing time because his bat had tanked from where it was in 2009.

Looking forward, Donald or Nix looks to be the third baseman, LaPorta will get one more shot at first base, and Asdrubal Cabrera will get a shot to return to form at short.  More importantly, the Indians have imported Reds infielder Orlando Cabrera to play second base.  Jayson Nix and Valbuena return as depth.  I like adding Orlando Cabrera, though he’s getting long in the tooth and hasn’t really played a whole lot of second base in his career.  Donald can hit as well as Peralta these days, and LaPorta has room for growth.  Defensively, it’s not awesome – but it’s not bad either (well, LaPorta didn’t impress me).  If nothing else, it’s an infield that gives a manager a lot of daily options if necessary.

Outfield:

In right field, Shin Soo Choo is awesome – 20/20 with a high batting average and on base percentage.  He’s one of the best in the game.  The problem is the other two positions.  In center, the Indians are hoping that Grady Sizemore can return from microfracture surgery on his left knee.  At peak, and Sizemore is just 29, Sizemore is a potent bat in the middle of the lineup.  He hasn’t had centerfield range in years, though, so I’d rather see him play left field.  That leaves Michael Brantley or Trevor Crowe in left (or center) and neither impressed at the plate, being low average, low power guys with speed.  Crowe might be the better defensive option in center, but neither has 1000 innings in the field yet, so it’s still open for debate.  Austin Kearns returns to be a fourth or fifth outfielder and DH option.

DH:

Travis Hafner, no longer the threat he once was, still helps put runs on the board.  Carlos Santana, Shelly Duncan, or Austin Kearns will be the other half of a platoon arrangement.

Down on the Farm:

The guys at AAA who looked like they could play a little, Brantley, Crowe, Donald, LaPorta (who caught in AAA), all got shots with the parent club.  Of those who did not, Jose Constanza hit .319 with less power and a lower OBP than Brantley, so that won’t work.  Cord Phelps moved up from AA, is just 24, and hit .317 with a little power.  Phelps is a 3rd round pick out of Stanford in 2008 who has been moved up quickly and played better at each level.  That being said, the entire Columbus AAA team hit .285, so I wouldn’t put stock in those averages holding up at the big league level.  None of the guys who hit .300 in AAA hit anywhere near .250 in the bigs in 2010.  A couple of pitchers were rushed to the bigs, including Gomez and Huff, while Carlos Carrasco pitched better than all of them (10 – 6, 133Ks in 150.1 innings, good control, 3.65 ERA in a hitter’s park).  So of the young arms in camp, I like his the best.

AA Akron features a couple of pitchers who might make you look for them in a year or two.  Alex White is just 22, had a 2.28 ERA in 17 starts, and had good control, decent K numbers, and kept the ball in the park.  The UNC grad was the #1 pick of the Indians in 2009 and appears to have a fast track to the majors.  Chen Lee pitched relief, fanned 82 and walked just 22 in 72.2 innings of work.

The second round pick of the 2009 draft, Jason Kipnis, hit well at A+ Kinston, batting .300 with a .387 OBP and power, earning a trip to Akron, where he continued to hit well (.311/.385/.502).  I like him because he’s from Northbrook, IL – a graduate of Glenbrook North, where a bunch of my cousins went to school.  He’s still figuring out second base, but he will be in the majors before you know it.  The 2008 #1 pick, Lonnie Chisenhall, has migrated to third base and shows power – but right now projects out as an Andy Marte clone – and that’s not MLB ready yet.

2011 Forecast:

Let’s call it guarded optimism.  The young pitchers should be able to build on 2010, but I think the defense will suffer if Sizemore is allowed to play center and with Orlando Cabrera learning a new position (and LaPorta likely getting 1000 innings at first).  It’s not a total wash, but it’s at least mitigating some of the potential improvement.  If Sizemore plays left and Crowe plays center, the team will remove 30 runs from the runs allowed side.  If Sizemore is still in center, I don’t see any change.

The offense will certainly be better at catcher, and if Sizemore can hit, that’s another huge plus – possibly 80 extra runs on the board between the two positions.  Cabrera or Donald or Nix will be better than a full season of Luis Valbuena, too.  When I feel optimistic, the system says that the team should score 725 runs and allow about 740 – but managerial decisions and Sizemore’s health aren’t guarantees, so I’ll hedge my bet and guess it will be more like 700 and 750 instead.  That puts the Indians at 75 wins – a nice step in the right direction.  On the other hand, the potential is there to get to 80 games if a lot of things work in their favor.  Besides, Cleveland could use some good news from a sporting standpoint.  As such, I’ll be rooting for the pleasant surprise…

2010 Season Forecast: Cincinnati Reds

Last Five Seasons:
2009: 78 – 84 (4th NL Central)
2008: 74 – 88
2007: 72 – 90
2006: 80 – 82
2005: 73 – 89

The Reds haven’t had a winning season since going 85 – 77 in 2000.  It’s time to fix this problem, don’t you think?

Runs Scored: 673 (10th in the NL)
Runs Allowed: 723 (8th in the NL)

Season Recap:

Most observers were mixed, but one could see hope on the horizon in guys like Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and what looked like four potentially good starters.  I’m sure the Reds fans thought they should have finished better than .500.

The Reds actually got off to a pretty good start.  At one point, Cincinnati was 20 – 14 with Johnny Cueto at 4 – 1, Bronson Arroyo at 5 – 2 and Edinson Volquez at 4 – 2.  And then the bad things started to happen.  Joey Votto got hurt – and his confidence was suddenly shaken, requiring extra time to come to grips with being out of the lineup and being without his father who had passed away.  Volquez went down with an arm injury, taking their ace out of the rotation.  After two months looking like a contender, the Reds fell off in June and then fell APART in July.

Cincinnati was 40 – 39 on the Fourth of July.  And then the roof caved in falling all the way to 45 – 61 after a loss to Chicago on August 3.  The team couldn’t hit – as a group, they batted .240 or less in June, July and August.  In July, Red pitchers had an ERA of 5.58 and while August was better, it was their second worst complete month.

To their credit, the Reds unloaded a few problems (Edwin Encarnacion was traded to Toronto for Scott Rolen, Alex Gonzalez was sent to Boston and Paul Janish played shortstop), and got Willy Taveras and his lousy bat out of the leadoff spot.  Homer Bailey finally started pitching like a winner.  Justin Lehr replaced Micah Owings in the rotation and won five of eight decisions.  The rest of the way, the Reds went 33 – 23, which was better than even St. Louis down the stretch.

Pitchers:

Having looked at the numbers, adjusting for the defense and the park, I noticed this odd fact.  Every pitcher who made a start allowed more runs per nine than the average NL pitcher – a combined 77 runs worse than average.  Bronson Arroyo was the closest to average at -0.95, and having pitched the most innings, he’s the ace.  Johnny Cueto had his second straight season of running out of gas – he needs to step up big time in 2010.  Aaron Harang should be better than this (6 – 14, 4.21)), and yet he’s constantly moving backwards.  Micah Owings is the best hitting pitcher ever, probably, but he would have fit in with the Brewers rotation as badly as he pitched.  Homer Bailey was on the way to positives, but he didn’t quite make it before the season ended.  Even Edinson Volquez didn’t fare exceedingly well in his nine starts.

So, that the Reds went out of the box and signed Aroldis Chapman – who may wind up the fifth starter (crazy, I know it) – was a HUGE step forward.  The 20 year old with a 102 mile an hour fastball might start the year in AA, but in a year or two, he could be a serious ace.

If the Reds want to win, their starters have to step up.  Arroyo has to hold steady, Harang has to find his mojo, Cueto has to become a REAL #2 starter, and Bailey has to make 25 good starts and not 10.  The guy who might make this interesting, but isn’t guaranteed a roster spot is Matt Maloney, who had seven tolerable starts but gave up nine homers.  Everything else looks good (28Ks against 8 walks, for example).

The bullpen was pretty good, though.  Francisco Cordero was great, Nick Massett was solid, and even Arthur Rhodes – who pitched in Baltimore when Mike Flanagan was still pitching – was really good.  If Maloney isn’t going to start, he’s a good long relief option.  After that, you have a few “ifs” in Danny Herrera, Carlos Fisher, and Jared Burton.  These are guys who aren’t bad and would help more IF they could also step forward.

I like Harang to come back some, Cueto and Bailey to improve some more, and Micah Owings to play right field before too long.  I see at least a 25 run net gain.  A streak of confidence might make it 50.  That’s optimistic, though.

Catchers:

It’s the same group as last year – Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan.  Combined, they provided slightly better than league average catching, and slightly below average hitting.  The hope, I guess, is that Hernandez stays healthy, but he’s turning 34 in May, so I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

Infielders:

Joey Votto is the real deal – like Ryan Braun, Votto is a threat to win a triple crown.  It would be nice if the Reds wouldn’t do goofy things like force Ramon Hernandez to first base, but when Votto went down, Dusty Baker decided that Hernandez was Victor Martinez.  He’s not.  (He’s actually a better fielder, but not a hitter.)

Brandon Phillips remains a great second baseman; durable, a defender, and one of the most productive players in the game.

After a year of letting Alex Gonzalez try to regain his youth, the Reds are going with veteran Orlando Cabrera.  This HAS to go better, wouldn’t you think?  Paul Janish played spectacularly with the glove, but hits like Mark Belanger, too.

Arriving in a trade, Scott Rolen takes over at third base and if he can fight father time will be a step up over Edwin Encarnacion.

The bench now includes Aaron Miles and Paul Janish, capable gloves even if the bats aren’t really strong.  Drew Sutton is also around, but likely will wind up at AAA.  And, the ancient Miguel Cairo got a Non-Roster Invite – he could sneak in there.

All told, I like this group to be 30 – 40 runs more productive offensively, and perhaps five runs better defensively.  Only Rolen’s health makes me nervous – but at .255 and some power, he’s an improvement.  And, Cabrera could get old this year – but he’ll be better than Gonzalez.

Outfielders:

This is a young group and I think will be better next year because Willy Taveras is gone.  Chris Dickerson isn’t a huge power threat, but he was an above average hitter at 5.4 runs per 27 outs.  Give him 500 at bats, and that’s a step up.  Jonny Gomes will get at bats (and not catch flies) after hitting 20 homers last season.  And I don’t believe that Jay Bruce will hit .223 again (but he might hit 30 homers).  Add to that Drew Stubbs, who hit .267 with some power after taking over for Taveras in center.  I’m not convinced he’s better than Chris Dickerson (in part because that power isn’t to be expected and he doesn’t have enough patience), but BOTH guys would be better than Taveras.

Arriving from Seattle is Wladimir Balentien, who played well after arriving in late July- but had been disappointing as a Mariner.  I like him as a fourth or fifth outfielder.  Can Micah Owings shag flies?  Put him in left field and let the man hit.  Put him at first base when Joey Votto needs a day off and let him hit.  Sheesh.

I see perhaps 50 more runs of offense in 2010 from the outfield, with the defense holding steady – and improving if Gomes is a pinch hitter and not a regular outfielder.

Prospects:

The best players in AAA already started getting playing time – Stubbs, Maloney, Lehr, Bailey.  Aroldis Chapman may not see any minor league time, and we already mentioned him.  So, if you are looking for prospects, we have to look to the lower levels.

Travis Wood is close.  At AA Carolina, he went 9 – 3 with a 1.21 ERA (!), in part because he allowed just two homers and had a 3:1 K/W ratio.  He earned a shot at AAA where he had eight decent starts.  His minor league career has been a bit uneven, so look for Wood to start the year in AAA, but get the first shot at the majors if someone falters.  Chris Heisey had an amazing half season at AA, hitting .347 with 13 homers, walking as often as he struck out, and earning a trip to AAA with Wood.  He didn’t quite keep up the same pace, but his four years in the minors have shown Heisey to be a hitter.  He’ll get another shot at AAA because the Reds have outfield options right now.

Another AA prospect is first baseman Yonder Alonso, the 2008 first round pick out of Miami, who smoked his way through rookie, A, and into AA last year.  He’s got some pop, patience, and a .300 average in the minors.  Alonso’s spot would seem to be blocked in the majors, though – so the question will be can he move to the outfield, or will he be moved for a pitcher.  I think he looks like a young Eddie Murray…  Todd Frazier, a 2007 top pick (1A), has hit well, with patience and power, but might not have the range at short and is blocked at second.  Frazier MIGHT get a shot, though, if someone gets injured.

Recent early picks aren’t making the same progress.  Catcher Devin Mesoraco (2007 – #1) hasn’t hit much in the minors.  Kyle Lotzkar walks a lot of batters (24 in 37.2 innings at A Dayton) but, more importantly, has to recover from a broken bone in his elbow that caused him to miss the 2009 season.

Forecast:

I like the Reds to make a splash in 2010.  I think the offense might be 80 runs better than last year, with improvement in the outfield and at two infield positions.  The defense may be a little better – and there is room for improvement on the staff.  I see Cincinnati scoring 750 runs and allowing perhaps 680 – and it could be less.  I have them at 89 wins, which isn’t out of the range of possibility.  If SOMEBODY can pitch like an ace, look out.

If asked to name a sleeper to make the World Series, it’s the Cincinnati Reds.

Top NL Shortstops in 2009

Hanley Ramirez (FLA):  Not great defensively, but an amazingly good hitter and the whole package makes him the best shortstop in baseball.  More patient than ever, has solid power and can still run the bases.  Go look at his minor league stats and tell me if you can see this coming.  I still think Miguel Cabrera is the best player ever to wear the Marlins uniform, but it might be Hanley.  (126.9 Runs Created, -6.24 Runs Saved = 120.63 Total Run Production)

Miguel Tejada (HOU):  Still a remarkably productive hitter despite not drawing any walks.  Hardly misses a game, had a decent year in the field (Blum can’t cut off anything) – now heading back to Baltimore and moving to third base.  (104.1 Runs Created, -2.0 Runs Saved = 102.07 Total Run Production)

There was a time when I was a big Tejada fan.  Now, not so much.  The Astros wanted him to move to third base and had he done that the Astros would have been probably 30 runs better because Keppinger would have been the full time shortstop.  (That being said, Keppinger should have been the full time third baseman.)  He lied about his age.  He was incriminated by Rafael Palmeiro – and if you look at it – I absolutely believe that Tejada was juicing.  He was in Oakland, one of the two centers of PED abuse (the other being Texas, but only because Canseco brought the practice with him from Oakland to Texas).  His power numbers have fallen off the further away from his PED use he’s gotten.  He does what he thinks is right and not what the manager wants.  Nobody has come right out and said it, but there’s no way he’s a role model for anybody.

Troy Tulowitzki (COL):  Even considering he played in Colorado, Tulo’s offense was great – good power, good patience, good baserunning, almost hit .300.  His fielding isn’t what it was a few years ago when he came up, but if he puts 100 runs on the board, nobody will complain.  (106.0 Runs Created, -6.6 Runs Saved = 99.43 Total Run Production)

Yunel Escobar (ATL):  I see a lot of him being a Marlins fan and boy is this guy good.  He’s no Ramirez, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he hits .320 with 20 homers one day.  I hope he’s on my fantasy team when he does it.  I look for that season in 2011, but it could be this year.  92.9 Runs Created, 3.4 Runs Saved = 96.24 Total Run Production)

Rafael Furcal (LAD):  A near healthy season – his batting average isn’t what it once was, and he doesn’t tear up the bases like he used to, and he can’t field the way he once did…  His arm is still a cannon.  He’s pretty much a league average starter now and slightly above average for his position.  (85.7 Runs Created, 3.5 Runs Saved = 89.17 Total Run Production)

Ryan Theriot (CHC):  Doesn’t hit for enough power to move up this list, but still  a fine shortstop.  The Cubs should be glad to have him.  (75.8 Runs Created, 8.5 Runs Saved = 84.27 Total Run Production)

Brendan Ryan (STL):  I liked him a couple of years ago, but he was better than I had thought he’d be in 2009.  Hit enough and played the position supurbly.  Didn’t get enough credit for helping the Cardinals make it to the top of the NL Central.  (58.5 Runs Created, 21.2 Runs Saved = 79.71 Total Run Production)

Everth Cabrera (SD):  Brendan Ryan with a bit more speed.  He’s an old school #2 hitter – would be nice if he could step up with about 15% more offense.  That means finding more ways to get on base because he has little, if any, power.  (59.1 Runs Created, 13.7 Runs Saved = 72.81 Total Run Production)

Stephen Drew (ARI):  Isn’t horrible, but I can’t help but think he’s kind of a disappointment.  Hits for a little power, gets on base some – doesn’t kill you with the glove.  You don’t hear about him because he plays in Arizona and they aren’t all that good right now, but he’s not all that noticeable either.  (68.2 Runs Created, -3.67 Runs Saved = 64.56 Total Run Production)

Jimmy Rollins (PHI):  Phillie fans are going to be surprised at this rating, but despite the power and base stealing, what did he do?  I know – Rollins got the gold glove.  But did ANYBODY look at the stats?  Like Derek Jeter, his reputation was bigger than his range – he had the WORST range of anyone playing 300 innings at the position – except for the ancient Edgar Renteria.  When you adjust for the staff (balls in play, groundball/fly ball) Rollins is dead last.  He also didn’t get on base.  When he’s on – he can explode offensively, but he is NOT a valuable commodity anymore.  Would I rather have Everth Cabrera these days than Jimmy Rollins?  Yes.  Yes, I would.  (88.5 Runs Created, -26.07 Runs Saved = 62.42 Total Run Production)

Cristian Guzman (WAS):  Only his batting average is worth anything.  Range is gone, speed is gone, and he has little power or patience at the plate.  I’d play Ian Desmond.  (63.9 Runs Created, -10.2 Runs Saved = 53.73 Total Run Production)

J.J. Hardy (MIL):  Gone – now the job belongs to Alcides Escobar.  He’s not horrible, but it would be nice if he could find his bat again.  I promise you he’ll be playing for two or three more years and is NOT the new Dale Sveum.  (47.9 Runs Created, 3.9 Runs Saved = 51.74 Total Run Production)

Alcides Escobar got his first taste of the big leagues and looked great.  Good range, decent enough bat.  At 500 at bats and 140 games, he’s moving into the top seven and if he’s all that, he’s a big step up from Hardy.

Paul Janish (CIN):  Can’t hit a lick (.211, with little power or patience) but had amazing defensive stats.  The new John McDonald?  (23.7 Runs Created, 24.73 Runs Saved = 48.46 Total Run Production)

Jack Wilson (PIT/SEA):  I know – great glove.  However, he’s gettin older, missing time, and isn’t much of an offensive force.  Tell me again how this helps the Mariners in the long run?  (39.8 Runs Created, 7.6 Runs Saved = 47.40 Total Run Production)

Edgar Renteria (SF):  Had a better year with the glove than normal, but still below average.  Not much offensively anymore either.  And yet, he has a job in San Francisco.  Reason #3 that the team won’t make the playoffs.  (46.9 Runs Created, -6.7 Runs Saved = 40.29 Total Run Production)

Jeff Keppinger (HOU):  Most of the time, he played third base behind Blum but he can still play short.  If he played full time, he’s at least as good as Guzman and maybe as productive (overall) as Rollins or Drew.   In 2010, he might get more innings there – the MLB depth chart lists rookie Tommy Manzello as the potential starter.  Manzello has little power, isn’t a huge on base guy – but if he can field at all he’s a Jack Wilson clone. (39.4 Runs Created, 0.7 Runs Saved = 40.07 Total Run Production)

Ronny Cedeno (PIT):  No hit, decent glove, utility infield type.  Not going to impact Pittsburgh other than he’s playing because nobody else is ready.  31.0 Runs Created, 7.3 Runs Saved = 38.3 Total Run Production)

Alex Cora (NYM):  Broke BOTH thumbs.  Now THAT’S a bad break.  He’s really not a half-bad player and most teams would love to have him as their shortstop.  (29.2 Runs Created, 7.6 Runs Saved = 36.78 Total Run Production)

Alex Gonzalez (CIN/BOS):  Age and injuries have sapped his range – he was never that good with the bat.  It was a good run, though.  Orlando Cabrera has the job now and he’s a serious step up over what Cincy threw out there in 2009. (39.9 Runs Created, -12.3 Runs Saved = 27.6 Total Run Production)

Jose Reyes (NYM):  Obviously a better player than this, but his bum wheels affected his range and he didn’t play into the summer.  If healthy, he’s top six for sure.  (23.6 Runs Created, -6.3 Runs Saved = 17.26 Total Run Production)

Top AL Shortstops in 2009

Derek Jeter (NYY):  Dog his defense, but the guy produces runs.  Jeter gets on base, occasionally swats for power, runs the bases well, and despite his well below average range, ranks as the best shorstop in the AL.  And he’s the oldest guy at the position.  Enjoy it while it lasts.  (128.9 Runs Produced, -14.2 Runs Saved = 114.67 Total Run Production)

Jason Bartlett (TB):  His ankle cut into his defensive range – where in 2008 he was WELL above average, he was slightly below average in 2009.  On the other hand, he hit .320 and smacked 14 homers and looked like a poor man’s Derek Jeter.  A very valuable player.  (102.6 Runs Created, -8.7 Runs Saved = 94.00 Total Run Production)

Elvis Andrus (TEX):  As a rookie, he was tolerable offensively – just six homers, a .267 bat, and not too many walks.  He did help by stealing bases – 33 of them.  But Andrus was the best infield glove imaginable.  If he can show growth as a hitter and keep his enormous advantage defensively, we’re talking about a young Omar Vizquel here.  Jeter was worth double the offense, but Andrus made up nearly 45 runs with the glove.  (62.6 Runs Created, 30.8 Runs Saved = 93.38 Total Run Production)

Marco Scutaro (TOR):  Had a season that was just out of whack with his career and turned it into a nice paycheck from Boston.  The big improvement was plate discipline, but he also added power (12 more doubles, 5 more homers) and ran more often.  He’s better than what Boston had the last couple of years, but I won’t be surprised if he falls back to the middle of the pack in 2010.  (96.0 Runs Created, -6.5 Runs Saved = 89.54 Total Run Production)

The guy slated to take Scutaro’s slot is Alex Gonzalez – who has lost a step, doesn’t get on base, barely hits .250 with middling power, and won’t be here when the season is over, I bet.  John McDonald, a good glove and three years older than A-Gone, will back him up.  If Tyler Pastornicky or Ryan Goins are legitimate prospects, there is nothing in their path to get to the majors…

Erick Aybar (LAA):  Good batting average and a few doubles and a plus fielder.  Would like a little more patience at the plate, but you can live with the total package at this level.  Does he have another notch to climb?  (77.9 Runs Created, 11.1 Runs Saved = 88.94 Total Run Production)

Asdrubal Cabrera (CLE):  A slight shade better offensively than Aybar – but essentially the same guy.  But, he’s not in Aybar’s league as a fielder (few are).  Like Aybar, is still young enough to take a step forward.  (94.0 Runs Created, -5.5 Runs Saved, 88.55 Total Run Production)

Orlando Cabrera (OAK/MIN):  Played well enough in Oakland – then moved to Minnesota to finish the season and fill a void there.  Now with Cincinnati – Cabrera is a valuable commodity.  He’s not the great hitter anymore, but he still can field well enough.  He’s NOT a franchise changer, but he still has skills.  J.J. Hardy has the job now, and he won’t be this good. (83.1 Runs Created, 4.4 Runs Saved, 87.50 Total Run Production)

Adam Kennedy would be listed here…  He’s not a shortstop but played a lot of innings all over the infield for Oakland…

Alexei Ramirez (CWS):  He’s got some pop in the bat, and his glove isn’t horrible but not top notch.  The Sox don’t have a better option at this point, but Ramirez could easily play a few more games and fill out his stats.  For example – he had 15 homers, but just 14 doubles…  14/19 as a basestealer, too.  He could sneak up the list in 2010.  (71.7 Runs Created, -6 Runs Saved = 65.66 Total Run Production)

Jack Wilson (SEA):  Came over from Pittsburgh – a decent glove who occasionally contributes with the bat.  If he’s healthy, he’ll be better than Betancourt – but that’s not saying much these days.  (44.2 Runs Created, 13.2 Runs Saved = 57.6 Total Run Production)

Cesar Izturis (BAL):  Great glove, no hit guy in the tradition of Mark Belanger.  (38.6 Runs Created, 15.7 Runs Saved = 54.25 Total Run Production)

Yuniesky Betancourt (KC):  Seattle discarded Betancourt after a rather disinterested start; the Royals got a bit more of the same.  (45.4 Runs Created, 3.17 Runs Saved = 48.57 Total Run Production

Cliff Pennington (OAK):  Took over when Cabrera was moved out, Pennington hit better and held his own as a fielder.  I think he could hold the job regularly and contribute to wins for the A’s, but I can’t tell if Oakland agrees with me.  He’s better than Betancourt – just didn’t play enough to rate higher.  (31.5 Runs Created, 5.5 Runs Saved = 36.96 Total Run Production)

Ramon Santiago or Adam Everett (DET):  Combined, weren’t worth 60 runs.  Everett lost his range and his bat.  Santiago is a step ahead of Everett at this point.  If this is Detroit’s idea of being competitive for 2010, I don’t see it.  A full season of Santiago wouldn’t be as good as Alexei Ramirez production…  (It’s better than a full year of Adam Everett, but that’s not saying much.)

Nick Green (BOS):  The guy with the most innings and the highest rating (a lot of ugly numbers) – the job now belongs to Marco Scutaro.

Hudson, Kennedy Sign Deals and Other Hot Stove News…

I had posted it earlier this week in reviewing the performance of AL second basemen.  First – Adam Kennedy had a pretty good year for Oakland and would have been a tolerable option for a team that didn’t have second base locked down.  Then, noting that the Twins had nobody in house who could contribute at second base, if Orlando Hudson was still available, it would make sense to make him an offer.

If only every day I felt that smart.

Anyway – Minnesota signed Hudson to a one-year deal and immediately gave themselves a 40 run upgrade over Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, or Brian Dinkelman.  Hudson can still hit .280+ with a little power and a few walks thrown in – he’s an excellent #2 hitter.  And, he’s still a solid defender.  Great signing.  [SI]

Now, Minnesota outbid Washington for Hudson’s services but the Nationals didn’t wait.  Once the deal was done, the Nationals landed Adam Kennedy for their second base hole.  Hey – if you can name the guy who got the most innings in at second base for the DC squad last year, you’re probably the only one who can.  (Anderson Hernandez)  Again, this could be a 30 run improvement for the Nationals – and they have room for improvement.

Kevin Gregg may get another shot at closing games, signing a one year deal with two different follow up options to join Toronto.  I’ve watched Gregg a lot because I live in a Florida and because I watch Cubs games…  He’s NOT a bad reliever.  However, he does get in ruts and he has a history of trying to pitch through pain which affects his ability to keep the ball down.  (On the side, he looks like Clark Kent and his vision is really poor…)  [SI]

Congrats to Justin Verlander, who signed a five-year, $80 million deal to stay with the Tigers.  He certainly earned it.  [ESPN]

Quick notes – Orlando Cabrera is the new Reds shortstop.  He might just be a temporary fix, but you never know.  Cubs signed Kevin Millar to a minor league deal – he’s teammates with Derrek Lee again.

Free Agents Filing at Torrid Pace…

‘Tis the season for teams to decide on what members will remain on the 40-man roster, and which players will not get tendered offers based on existing options, and for other players to test the market.  So, for the next several days, the list of players on the MLB Free Agent list will grow and the number of players officially on the 40-man rosters will likely shrink for a little while.

The Rumor Mill

FoxSports reports that the Cubs are considering a three-way deal to move Milton Bradley.  The Cubs would get Luis Castillo from the Mets, the Mets would get Lyle Overbay from the Toronto Blue Jays, and Toronto would get Bradley.  Other deals suggest the Rays getting involved and offering Pat Burrell for Bradley.  [FoxSports]

The Mariners are looking to keep Felix Hernandez around (which means starting the process of a long-term deal now), but understand that there are many, many suitors for the AL Cy Young candidate.  [SI]

Thanks for Playing!

Carl Crawford remains in Tampa as the Rays honored his $10 million option.  Meanwhile, Brian Shouse and Greg Zaun were both bought out and will become free agents.  [ESPN]

Boston picked up the option for catcher Victor Martinez ($7.1 million), signed Tim Wakefield to a two-year deal loaded with incentives, but declined an option on Jason Varitek.  Varitek has the option to sign for $3 million to be a backup next year, else join the free agent market.  For Wakefield, he’ll have a chance to break the team record for pitching victories (Young/Clemens have 192) and win his 200th career game.  [ESPN]

Free Agent Filings…

The most interesting story is that a Japanese fireballer, Ryota Igarashi of the Yakult Swallows, owner of a 98-mph fastball, wants to play here.  Japanese players have to wait nine seasons before they can come to the states and Igarashi is already 30 but could be a viable late inning pitcher for somebody.  [ESPN]

The Dodgers declined a $2.2 million option on reliever Will Ohman, while Mark Loretta and Juan Castro also filed.  [ESPN/MLB]

Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, Yankee World Series heroes, joined the current list of 151 free agents.  Other Yankees on the list now include Eric Hinske, Jose Molina, and Xavier Nady.  [MLB]

Houston’s Jose Valverde, as good a reliever on the market, filed for free agency yesterday.  At least five Astros players (Erstad, Tejada, Brocail) are on the list now.  [MLB]

Octavio Dotel not only filed, but learned he was a Type A free agent, which means the Sox have to offer arbitation if they hope to get compensation should someone else sign Dotel.  [MLB]

Rockies pitchers Joe Beimel and Jose Contreras filed for free agency.  If Beimel is healthy, he’s a good pickup, but I’d be surprised if Contreras gets a lot of interest from teams.  [MLB]

Cubs closer (well, former closer) Kevin Gregg filed for free agency, and – like Dotel – was graded as a Type A free agent, meaning the Cubs have to offer Gregg arbitration to get the compensation draft pick.  [MLB]

Twins infielder Orlando Cabrera joined the list of free agents, alongside Mike Redmond, Ron Mahay, Carl Pavano, and Joe Crede on the list.  [MLB]

Toronto catcher Rod Barajas is a free agent, though he noted that he’d love to stay a Blue Jay.  [MLB]

You know who has a lot of free agents?  St. Louis.  Todd Wellemeyer became the ninth player (Holliday, Ankiel, Pineiro, Smoltz, Glaus, Greene, DeRosa, LaRue) to file.  [MLB]

Gary Sheffield also filed for free agency, trying to find ANYONE who might give him a chance to play.  He’s at eight teams and counting…  [MLB]

Free Agent Discussions

Jerry Crasnick met with a number of executives and put eight questions before them.  Want to see the answers?  [ESPN]

SI’s Ted Keith identifies his list of the ten riskiest free agents.  Well, nine + Rich Harden!!!  [SI]

Old News…

Something else I missed last week…  With several infielders on the horizon (Reid Brignac, Tim Beckham) and Ben Zobrist having blasted his way into the starting lineup, the Rays had less need for Akinori Iwamura.  So, the Rays shipped Iwamura to Pittsburgh for reliever Jesse Chavez.  Chavez probably appreciates the change of scenery, joining a contender, but he’ll need to step up his game to be a contributor.  I like this move for Pittsburgh.

Happy Birthday!

His 1961 season put him on the map, and for much of the 1960s, he was a great Tiger slugger – Norm Cash would be 75 today…

Also celebrating with cards and cake (or rememberances):  Jimmy Dykes (1896), Birdie Tebbetts (1912), Gene Conley (1930), Mike Vail (1951), Larry Christenson (1953), Larry Parrish (1953), Bob Stanley (1954), Jack Clark (1955), Kenny Rogers (1964), Keith Lockhart (1964), and Shawn Green (1972)…

Afterthoughts…

For the first time in nearly 30 years, it looks like all 27 members of the U.S. Appeals court will review the “drug list” case, determining the fate of the list of 104 players who allegedly failed the 2003 anonymous steroid survey.  [MLB]